Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Hungary’

Keeping European Extremism at Bay

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th December, 2015

EU imageThere was a collective sigh of relief among Europe’s mainstream body politic last night when the Front National failed to gain control of a single region of France. Marine Le Pen unsurprisingly blamed the electoral system, but the French model of two-round elections actually served the electorate well, as in many regions the two candidate run-off posed a simple question: do you want a FN administration or not? And the majority decided they did not, coming out to vote in larger numbers than in the first round and rallying behind whichever candidate from the centre left or centre right was left in the run-off. That’s the good news. But it should not blind us to the fact that both Ms Le Pen and her niece scored over 40% of the vote in their regions and that the FN is now the main opposition party in many areas of France. Their strong performance was undoubtedly helped by the murderous attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris last month, but that is not the only reason.

Nigel FarageThere has been a swing to right-wing, anti-immigrant parties in many parts of the EU, partly in response to the refugee and migrant crisis. Hungary has a particularly unpleasant government that enjoys strong public support and Polish voters moved to the right in recent elections. In the Netherlands, an anti-immigrant party is back leading some opinion polls after a period of decline. One brighter spot is the UK, where UKIP seems to be on the wane, having peaked at the European elections last year. But we cannot be complacent. When things go badly wrong in a society, whether relating to security or to the economy, the siren call of the far right will be appealing to a significant section of the population, which is why other parties, including the UK’s Liberal Democrats, need to have a clear and strong message to counter it.

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Refugees and Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th October, 2015

YEM panelSeveral recent opinion polls relating to Britain’s forthcoming IN/OUT EU referendum have shown a swing to the “leave” side, though still predicting that “remain” will win. One explanation mooted for the shift in opinion has been the current refugee and migrant crisis, to which the response from EU member states has been mixed, to put it mildly. Angela Merkel rolled out Germany’s welcome mat, while Hungary (shamefully, given how other European nations welcomed Hungarian refugees in 1956), slammed the door in the refugees’ face. Britain’s Conservative government refused to be part of an EU-wide response and not for the first time the EU got blamed for the chaos that was actually a failure of its member states to pull together. So will public concerns over the refugees and migrants lead to a British withdrawal from Europe? That was the question at the centre of debate last night at a well-attended meeting put on by the London branch of the Young European Movement in King’s College last night. With unfortunate timing the fire alarm went off just just as the meeting was about to get underway, as if a UKIP gremlin had put a spanner in the works, which meant that we had to evacuate into the street, but later we reconvened to hear Nick Hopkinson (Chair of London4Europe), Anjuja Prashar (a Liberal Democrat candidate in May’s general election) and Elliot Chapman-Jones (from British Influence) share their views. As a Canadian, Nick could draw some comfort from Justin Trudeau’s sweep to power in Ottawa the other day, showing that hope can overcome fear and Conservative isolationism, while Anuja, originating from East Africa, emphasized the positive contribution immigrants have made to Britain, not least to London. Elliot interestingly predicted that the “leave” side in the Brexit referendum campaign will not focus on immigration, as one might assume, as they have the anti-immigration votes already in the bag; instead, he believes, their arguments will be economic. Economic arguments, of course, involve statistics, and as we saw in the TV debates between UKIP Leader Nigel Farage and the then UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, it is hard to combat lies, damned lies and statistics in political debate. Rather, I maintain, we will need to focus on emotions, showing why we in Europe are stronger together and poorer apart, especially in the globalised world of today.

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AEJ Congress Neusiedl

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2014

NeusiedlBurgenland is the least populated of all Austria’s states, a jagged sliver of land bordering Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. As such, it was the ideal location for this year’s Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), when our minds were turned to the fall of Communism in Central Europe 25 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Pan-European picnic organised on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1969, which was one of the triggers for the reunification if the continent after four decades of Cold War. These days, there is plenty of cross-border regional cooperation between neighbouring districts. But that does not mean that everyone lives exactly the same way all across the European Union or indeed sees things the same way. It was particularly striking that some of the Hungarian participants did not share the deep concerns in Western Europe about the way that the ruling Fidesz party has drifted from liberal democracy to a degree of authoritarianism. Any complacency about Europe’s future was further shattered by an impassioned presentation from a representative from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke of the realities of War and of our need to stand up to the Russians.

The Latvian European Commissioner-designate, Valdis Dombrovskis, reminded us of the stiff economic challenges still facing the eurozone, in particular, and a Spanish delegate pointed out that there are now about 15,000 unemployed journalists in Spain. Life is certainly not getting easier for the profession, not least given the pressures of censorship and self-censorship, intimidation in countries such as Russia and the misuse of anti-terrorism laws to curb media freedom in the UK, Turkey and elsewhere.

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Parallel Lines

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th April, 2014

Peter LantosParallel LinesSo much has been written about the Holocaust that one might be forgiven in thinking that nothing new could be said about that monstrous period of inhumanity. But every so often a book comes along that proves that the last word has not been spoken. Such is Peter Lantos’s Parallel Lines (Arcadia Books, £9.99). Originally published in 2007, it has justly been repeatedly reprinted in paperback for the benefit of new readers. The sub-title of the book, “A Journey from Childhood to Belsen”, highlights a central strand of the narrative of Lantos’s memoir, but as well as the infant boy’s attempts to make sense of what was happening to him as his parents and he were plucked from their previously rather comfortable existence in the small Hungarian town of Makó, being sent first to a Jewish ghetto and then on to Bergen-Belsen (where his father perished), the story also sees the adult Lantos retracing steps, digging in archives, interviewing people to try to fit together pieces of the jigsaw that had just become a faded memory. There is ample evidence of brutality and suffering, as well as the wickedness of the Nazis, their Hungarian collaborators, and also “ordinary” people who took advantage of the Jews’ dispossession to hep themselves to property both large and small. Salvation for the boy and his mother came when an American unit rescued them from another train transportation away from Belsen that would almost certainly otherwise have taken them to their death. But their return to Makó turned out to be a reason for more trials and tribulation, as the Russians helped install an unforgiving Communist regime which treated them as class enemies. Lantos was very fortunate in being able to get out to pursue higher medical studies in England, which would eventually lead to a new life as a British citizen and an acclaimed writer, as well as distinguished in his medical profession. What is truly remarkable about Parallel Lines, however, is not just its moving portrayal of triumph over adversity but above all the self-evident humanity of the author, his refusal to hate, even his lively sense of humour. For though there is so much misery in the telling there are also moments that make one laugh out loud. A wonderful and memorable book, no matter how many other accounts of the Holocaust one has read.

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Andrew Duff on Britain’s Future in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th January, 2012

Twelfth Night is usually the time I take down the Christmas cards, but last evening I went instead to Cambridge, to hear the East of England LibDem MEP Andrew Duff give his verdict on the situation regarding Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU following David Cameron’s disconcerting performance at the Brussels Summit last month. A convinced federalist and constitutional supergeek, Andrew has been issuing doom-laden pronouncements about the current state of European affairs for several months, so it was a relief at last night’s Policy Forum of Cambridge Liberal Democrats (chaired by Julian Huppert, MP) to find him less morose, but nonetheless highly critical of the place the Prime Minister has landed Britain in. The PM’s refusal to endorse measures designed to introduce more financial discipline within the eurozone came as quite a shock to Andrew, as he had been phoned erlier in the day by 10 Downing Street assuring him that Cameron was not going to do anything dramatic — a message Andrew then duly passed on to the Brussels press corps. Maybe not surprisingly,  Andrew did not sleep that night after the reality became clear and like many of us in the LibDems, he was unhappy about the way the reaction to Cameron’s position from the Liberal Democrats gave very mixed messages over the weekend after the Brussels Summit. But the important thing is to look forward not back, and to see how much Nick Clegg and the LibDems can help row the Coalition government back from the position it now finds itself in regarding the EU. The next few months will be crucial as the other 26 — or 25, if Hungary distances itself further from the European mainstream — will have to work on a new Treaty relating to closer financial arrangements within the eurozone, but minus Britain’s signature. Denmark, which assumed the rotating EU presidency this week, has an unenviable task head, and Andrew Duff doesn’t believe Copenhagen is really up to it. But things could be even more difficult after 1 July, when Cyprus is due to take over the helm.

Links: http://andrewduff.eu and http://cambridgelibdems.org.uk

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The Castle of Love on Europe Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th May, 2011

Franz Liszt wrote only one opera, Don Sanche or the Castle of Love, while aged 13. When the work had its premiere in Paris in 1825, there was a generous reception — particularly when the pint-sized composer was virtually carried on stage. But the libretto is preposterous even by 19th century opera standards and the music not that innovatory so the work was rarely performed afterwards before disappearing from view for a long period. As this is the bicentenary of Liszt’s birth, however, and Hungary currently presides over the EU, he was a fitting choice for tonight’s Europe Day concert at St John’s Smith Square. The European Opera Centre backed by the European Youth Orchestra under the baton of Laurent Pillot gave us some of the highlights of this often rather Mozartian curiosity. The concert was closed with the European Anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, which brought the audeince to its feet and many a tear to the eye. Meanwhile, David Cameron may have small-mindedly refused to fly the European 12-star blue flag outside 10 Downing Street today, but Westminster Council, in contrast, used the flagpoles left over from the Royal Wedding to fly not only the European flag but those of all 27 member states.

Link: http://www.euyo.org.uk

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Hungary Celebrates 20 Years of Central European Freedom

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd October, 2009

Hungarian coat of armsThe Hungarian Embassy in London’s Belgravia was heaving this lunchtime for the country’s National Day celebrations. Given the crush and the balmy autumn weather, the place soon became a Turkish bath. But this did not diminish the enthusiasm of the gathering, which was opened by a short speech of welcome from Ambassador Borbala Czako, who recalled the extraordinary events of 1989, when Hungary suddenly opened its border with Austria and a great crocodile line of East Germans in their phutting Trabants pootled through, joyous at being able to get away from the DDR. In the weeks and months that followed, the whole of Central Europe — including most amazingly the DDR itself — abandoned Communism and its alleigance to the Soviet Union. But who in 1989 would have predicted that Hungary would get into NATO just ten years later, and become a member of the European Union just five years after that? So as Ambassador Czako said, today we were celebrating what was effectkvely 20 years of Hungary’s true independence and freedom. Of course, things have not always been easy since then and Hungary is feeling the pinch of the economic and financial crisis more severely than most. But at least Hungarians can now look forward with hope.

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Hungary: Sick Man or Dynamic Hub?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th June, 2008

Hungary’s charismatic State Secretary for the Economy, Abel Garamhegyi, was in London today and gave a presentation at Eversheds’ splendid new offices near St. Paul’s on his country’s economic performance since it joined the European Union in 2004. He’d just been at Bloomberg TV, where he was asked bluntly whether Hungary is the new Sick Man of Europe (a term applied to the Ottoman Empire in its closing days). But he was going on to British Telecom, which has invested heavily in Hungary, where he could be assured of a more upbeat welcome. His task at the briefing with corporate lawyers and other City types (plus me) was to portray Hungary as the dynamic hub of a European sub-region, notably looking east and south, with heavy involvement in places such as Montenegro and Romania.

It is true that Hungary’s growth rate is well below that of some of its neighbours, but Mr Garamhegyi argued that this masks a reality in which the state sector has been shrinking (including a reduction in the number of teachers, as school enrolments have declined), whereas the private sector has been blossoming. Certainly there has been some encouraging inward investment, the biggest catch so far being a giant project by Daimler Benz. Moreover, despite its small size, Hungary attracts 15 per cent of all new Research and Development jobs in Europe, second only to the United Kingdom.

As everywhere, Hungary has been hit by rising energy and food prices and there are certainly significant macro-economic problems at the moment. Things are not helped by the strength of the Hungarian currency, the forint. Given its high level against the euro, there is little prospect of Budapest opting to join the eurozone soon.

The seminar was arranged by International Financial Services London

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